Denmark name futsal players in squad vs. Slovakia, Wales amid pay dispute with stars
Denmark will field a national team consisting of lower-league and futsal players for their friendly against Slovakia after failing to resolve a pay dispute involving its top stars.
The 24-man squad for the friendly with Slovakia on Wednesday in Trnava contained six members of futsal club Jaegersborg -- two of whom are also registered with football clubs -- while most other players are from the country's third and fourth tiers.
The makeshift squad, which will be coached by former Denmark midfielder John Jensen, is the result of a standoff between the Danish football association, DBU, and the country's players union over a new collective agreement regarding commercial rights. They could have to field the same team against Wales in their UEFA Nations League opener this weekend unless the issue is resolved.
The team selection was harshly criticised by Slovakian officials, who questioned whether there was any point in even playing the game. However, DBU head Kim Hallberg defended the decision by saying it was vital to avoid sanctions from UEFA for failing to field a team.
"It is crucial for the future of Danish football that we can play the two internationals this week, and therefore we are pleased that these 24 players have been willing to come through for Denmark," Hallberg said.
He added that being fined or even banned from internationals "would have great consequences for football in Denmark."
However, Slovakia coach Jan Kozak wasn't happy about facing such a squad.
"What's the point of traveling here with a team like that?" Kozak said. "From the sport's point of view, we won't get anything from the game."
The Slovakian FA said its own national team has been harmed by the dispute. It said Denmark promised to field the best possible team, and complained the replacement team contained "the players from lower-tier competitions."
The Slovakians say they have asked UEFA to deal with the case and confer "adequate consequences" and have dropped ticket prices for the match to €1 ($1.15).
Jensen, a member of Denmark's European Championship-winning team in 1992, said he was helping out to "mitigate the negative consequences."
"Where we are now," Jensen said, "I see only losers in the conflict, and Danish football loses most of all."
The previous collective agreement between the players and the association expired on July 31 and the two parties haven't been able to agree on a new one.
The union says players want sponsorship deals made by the association to continue to focus on the team and not individual players. The association said it has offered improved terms and met a "large number of the players' wishes in the commercial areas," adding that the current situation was "serious and annoying."
"We need to solve this conflict now," Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Eriksen said, "not just dig the trenches deeper."
The players are offering to extend the previous contract for another month to allow for more negotiations.
"Together we enter the deal and we all save the face of Danish football," the playmaker added. "We are right here and we want to play football for Denmark as always."
Last year, Denmark's women's team signed a four-year collective bargaining agreement with the DBU, ending a dispute that saw the cancellation of a World Cup qualifier.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report